I have something to say about this film that should immediately make you want to see it.
Bill Murray has never been better.
Not in Ghostbusters, not in Groundhog Day, not in anything he’s done for Wes Anderson, not even in Lost In Translation. We’ve seen him be cantankerous before, we’ve seen him be funny. We’ve seen him be sarcastic, we’ve seen him be vulnerable, we’ve seen him be sweet and we’ve seen him be emotional but never before has this all come together in a performance quite so accomplished. I understand the role was originally written for Jack Nicholson and, while I can see that casting would have worked, I don’t think he’d have done it as well. Bill Murray is brilliant here.
The rest of the film is good but it can’t quite match the work if its leading man. With a little more originality I’d say it would be guaranteed some awards attention in the next few months but as it is, it could go either way. Murray may well get some nominations and I expect there’ll be a nod in the Golden Globes Comedy or Musical category but I suspect that will be it.
St. Vincent isn’t really a comedy but this won’t worry the Globes, that award is a catch all for anything not quite serious enough to get the big prize. There are certainly amusing moments here but they are outweighed by the heartache and the drama.
The story, initially at least, feels like one we’ve seen before. It’s about a kid who befriends an older guy and this is a bit of a trope. Films like Taxi Driver, A Perfect World, Karate Kid, Up and Santa Clause: The Movie all use this idea to a certain extent. The young boy moves in to a new house, his parents recently separated. Circumstances contrive to put him in the company of his grumpy Vietnam vet neighbour who teaches him to fight and gamble. Against the odds this mismatched couple bond and both of them grow as people. I told you it wasn’t a surprising plot but remember that throughout all of this Murray is hitting it out of the park.
Mention also needs to made at this point of Jaeden Lieberher who is also great as the young Oliver. This is definitely a kid old beyond his years but Lieberher portrays him realistically and he is the heart of the film. This is the eleven year old actor’s first film but he has projects in the works with Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Clive Owen and Kirsten Dunst so remember you saw him here first. Like Dunst he could well be someone to have a successful film career as both a child and an adult.
The cast is rounded out by the increasingly reliable Chris O’Dowd, Naomi Watts playing effectively against expectations as a Russian prostitute and Melissa McCarthy. This could work out to be an important movie for McCarthy who is totally reigning in her usual wise cracking abrasive characterisation. She may be realising that, funny as it is, the whole obnoxious, brash and feisty lady act she has done in Bridesmaids, The Heat and Tammy may have got a little old already. No doubt we will see that side of her again but if she can pepper it with subtle performances like this then she’ll be okay. Besides, you don’t play likeable objectionablility in a Bill Murray film because that is not a contest you are going to win.
For all the familiarity of the plot though, around two thirds of the way in it suddenly changes tack. It is all totally in keeping with what has become before but suddenly you are watching a moving drama that will warm and wrench your heart in equal measure. It is here that Murray really shows us something new and even though it returns to convention for the ending, by this stage it has earned your allegiance and you’ll be able to forgive the cliché with a tear in your eye.
St. Vincent may not be a particularly remarkable movie but it is worth seeing for Bill Murray’s performance and it will reward you in other areas along the way. Ultimately it has great things to say about the assumptions that can be levelled at older people and how the results of age should never eclipse the achievements of youth. Once a hero, or indeed a saint, always one.
Is this one for the kids?
St. Vincent is a 12A and actually I would put it at the upper end of this certification. There is quite a lot of swearing, one mild sex scene and some pole dancing.
The Ripley Factor:
Speaking of pole dancing, Naomi Watts is an interesting character in terms of gender politics. She is definitely objectified a little but this is in service of the story. The tart with a heart is another cliché and while her inclusion tells us something about the main character, I’m not sure the film would have suffered too much with out her.
This isn’t to say she is only there to define the male lead and Watts plays her well. She is a strong and independent woman, she just isn’t essential to the plot.
More key to proceedings is Melissa McCarthy’s Maggie, who feels like a real and flawed character doing what she needs to do for her son.
It is a bit of a male centred film though, I don’t think it would pass the Bechdel Test.